The weather was sunny, 83⁰F with a warm breeze - delicious by Portland’s standards. Thursday’s Philippine Star announced that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was also in town, promising increased US economic aid. President Obama was also in the neighborhood (Bali), meeting with Philippine President Aquino to affirm our strategic alliance. Connection between the two countries was obvious.
A guest speaker invited by the World Bank Institute, I arrived in Manila anxious to understand more about local realities before I presented the next day. As advocates for livable cities, yet grounded in very different civic realities, what can we really learn from one another?
Conference: Balancing Smart Urbanization and Global Competitiveness
The challenge for these mayors was spelled out by conference keynote speaker Hon. Florencio B. Abad, National Secretary, Department of Budget and Management. "The rate of urbanization for our cities may be as much as 5 - 10% a year," he warned. "We must build our cities smarter, because our future is in our ability to compete globally." He then outlined the administration’s priorities for the next four years, including:
- 15% increase in education funding (highest federal allocation ever),
- 16% reduction in poverty rate,
- Co-financing strategies,
- Funding support linked to outcome-based results, and
- Rigorous commitment to eliminating government corruption.
I spoke at two sessions. I was paired with experts Jaume Torres (Barcelona) and Lee Malleau (Vancouver BC). Our panel addressed global competitiveness, and ‘sustainable’ urbanization. While I shared Portland’s stories at the lectern, I shared Portland’s voices in hallway conversations, over dinner, and in other impromptu gatherings.
Channeling Portland’s Voices
- Where do you begin? Carol Mayer- Reed: “Think about the geography of the place, its history of settlement, the people’s shared values.”
- Where do you find more urban land for public spaces? Doug Macy: “Don’t ignore your streets. They are already yours and can be a city’s best asset.”
- What about good transit design? Jillian Detweiler: “While other cities build transit to alleviate congestion, Portland builds it to make life better for those of us who live here, to support positive development in our neighborhoods.”
- What about transparency in government? Steve McCarthy: “Corruption should be seen for what it is - a hidden tax on the people.”
- How important are city centers and the downtown core? John Russell: “Downtown buildings should be joys to walk past. Portland’s Design Commission is pro-active; it insists that downtown buildings have a pedestrian-friendly quality.”
- What is the role of universities? Larry Wallack: “Universities need to step beyond their narrow role of researchers, and be partners with cities shaping the ideas of the new economy.”
- How do you manage growth pressures? Andy Cotugno: “Good land use planning should focus growth towards the urban core, and protect the adjacent resource land for food security.”
What can Portland Share? Be intentional.
In my telling of Portland’s stories, I did my best to share our principles and practices. Few of the specifics, it seems, can be directly transplanted. But what can make the intercontinental leap may be the habit of building and growing a city intentionally--on its own terms.
In a place hungry for economic development, trying to grow its middle class, are all jobs equal?
One of the funding NGOs presented to a small group of us about their efforts to help ‘grow’ the Filipino economy. A key strategy relied heavily on mega-tourism to attract foreign investment, like Hilton Hotels. Phuket, Thailand was held up as the model for economic growth in developing nations, arguably providing good jobs helping build the middle class.
Really? What about growing indigenous economies? Helping existing small businesses? Diversification? What about strategies that actually build wealth for local citizens? Ironically, these questions are also ours– perhaps they are universal.
What can Portland Learn? Use What You've Already Got
I was struck by Dr. Nathaniel “Dinky” Von Einsiedel’s presentation on re-appropriating downtown buildings, and urban renewal. He seemed to me sort of a Carl Abbott, Chet Orloff, and Jay Coalson combined. It is encouraging that nearly 7,000 miles away from Portland are renaissance thinkers like Von Einsiedel talking about existing urban neighborhoods and the importance of re-appropriating, not replacing. I wish he could advise on our Old Town.
Other, More Delightful, Take-Aways from Manila
Barongs: very hip, love these stylish linen mens’ shirts – several came home in my suitcase for the men in my life.
Mango smoothies: best mangos on the planet, no other country should bother to try
Sonya’s Garden: an idyllic country restaurant in the mountains about an hour from Manila, locally owned and managed by Sonya herself, and built on her own terms.